Company Profile: Radnor, Penn.-based Airgas, through its subsidiaries, is a distributor of industrial, medical, and specialty gases and hardgoods, such as welding equipment and supplies.On Jan. 21, Airgas announced a 16% increase to its quarterly cash dividend, paying 29 cents per share, up from 25 cents per share. The next payout will be on March 31 to shareholders of record on March 15, bringing Airgas' yield to around 1.9%. Airgas forecast 2011 fiscal-fourth quarter earnings-per-share to grow 19% to 25%, or to a range of 82 cents and 86 cents, including 4 cents per share of incremental expenses associated with its SAP implementation. Analysts' consensus was for Airgas to earn 84 cents per share in its fiscal fourth quarter. For fiscal 2011 Airgas expects adjusted EPS to grow as much as 24%, or to $3.32 per share, year-over-year, including 10 cents per share of SAP implementation-related expenses. Piper Jaffray analysts maintained an overweight rating on Airgas shares but raised their price target on the stock by a dollar to $76. "We continue to recommend Airgas to those clients that want exposure to the early cycle recovery of U.S. manufacturing," the research firm noted. "Despite revenues that remain below prior peak levels, EBITDA margins reached new highs this quarter and we see a clear path to continued growth, especially as end markets continue to recover. Strong cash generation continues to provide for debt pay-down and funding for additional acquisitions." On Jan. 19, Airgas signed a three-year supply contract with privately held Linc Group, an ABM Industries (ABM) company and provider of technical building services which includes on-site integrated facility operations management. On Jan. 25, Airgas defended the use of a poison pill against Air Products & Chemicals (APD). APD's year-long $5.9 billion battle for Airgas latest action led the pair back to court in the hope of convincing a Delaware judge to allow it to acquire its target for $70 per share. "If (the judge) allows the pill to remain, it's a big case. If he removes it, it's a big case, too," Charles Elson, a professor at the University of Delaware, told Reuters. "It defines the legality of a pill."
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